Social Justice

Homegrown Residency spotlights local Chicago musicians

By Chris McConaghey
Medill Reports

Every Tuesday night, Uncommon Ground’s Live Intimate Listening Rooms spotlight artists who might otherwise be plugging up to amplifiers in their garages and basements. Here, they get their chance to perform in front of a room filled with friends, family, and other Chicago local music fans.

Artists such as Danielle “Miss Jones” Jones – who has been singing since she was 10, but never really considered herself as a performer – are provided the opportunity to debut their material live and uncut. Jones, 21, is an Indiana native who moved to Chicago right after she graduated high school. She now deems herself as an amateur pianist and a practiced vocalist.

She will be performing Tuesday night, romancing the audience with soft ballads about her life. Continue reading

Veggie co-op in North Lawndale brings fresh produce to residents with dietary restrictions

By Trina Ryan
Medill Reports

On a breezy Saturday afternoon, Reynaldo Engram arrives at work early to sift through boxes of carrots. He performs this task with painstaking precision, holding each carrot up to the light, rubbing his thumb slowly over its dirt-speckled orange skin. As hub assistant at Farm on Ogden, a spacious agriculture facility on the West Side of Chicago, Engram’s responsibilities include anything from watering plants to sweeping floors to cleaning bathrooms. “I do what I’m asked,” says the 59-year-old, smiling. But today he has an important job, one he takes seriously: inspecting produce for defects. He wants to make sure the most attractive-looking vegetables go out to his neighbors of North Lawndale.

“I want everyone to feel as strong and healthy as I do,” he says. “Not too many folks around here can say they feel that way at my age.”

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Transgender woman challenges South Africa to open a new conversation about LGBTQ+ discrimination

By Thomas Ilalaole
Medill Reports

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa

According to a recent government study,  three million South Africans present themselves in a gender-non-conforming way. But in the city of Johannesburg, the LGBTQ+ community continues to struggle for acceptance.

In South African society, stereotypes and expectations of masculinity are deeply ingrained, and identities that don’t exist on the binary—or sexualities that are anything other than straight—are not widely accepted. Although the South African constitution says “the state may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against anyone on one or more grounds, including race, gender, sex, sexual orientation…” the LGBTQ+ community still faces prejudice.

Nicole Louw is a transgender female photographer, model and rugby player. She  grew up as a heterosexual, masculine man. She says as a transgender woman, she still has had relationships with gay men, as well as gay women. However, she says, heterosexual men and women still treat her differently. Continue reading

Stoned drivers targeted by new breathalyzer technology

By Brady Jones
Medill Reports

Slowed reaction time. Reduced ability to make decisions. Impaired coordination. Memory loss. Difficulty in problem-solving. These are some of the symptoms listed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) describing people who drive under the influence of marijuana. And right now, it is very difficult for law enforcement officials to determine when these drivers are sharing the road with you—and may be responsible for causing an accident.

Detecting recent marijuana use by drivers is far more difficult for law enforcement than detecting the presence of alcohol. Currently, testing can’t be done for marijuana using on-site breath samples. Now, a new device that aims to provide a reliable solution to this growing concern is being developed—and law enforcement officials welcome the potential of the new technology.

As more states move to legalization for recreational purposes, marijuana is more accessible to people with limited or no experience using it. The ability to successfully detect drivers that have smoked or ingested the drug becomes paramount to keeping drivers safe. Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), which is the main psychoactive compound in marijuana that produces the feeling of being high, does not show up on current, traditional breathalyzer devices used by law enforcement to detect blood alcohol content.
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Bird walk celebrates biodiversity on Northwestern’s campus while reckoning with its past

By Hannah Magnuson
Medill Reports

Northwestern University’s Evanston campus serves as home base to a host of travelers this spring — but students hustling to and from classes may not have noticed. That’s why Josh Honn, digital humanities librarian at Northwestern Libraries, decided to host a bird walk Monday morning around the eastern edge of the campus where migratory birds have settled after flying north from Mexico and Central and South America.

“It just seemed like a perfect opportunity to bring faculty, students, families and community members together to celebrate spring and to get to know campus a little better in both its animal life and nature,” Honn said.

The Birds & Breakfast event showcased the animals and plants that share space with the campus buildings, infrastructure and student life — a feature made especially noteworthy in light of the United Nations’ report on biodiversity released last week. The report warned that human activity has placed more than 1 million species worldwide in danger of extinction.

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Students apply science to make an environmental difference in Cambodia

By Karyn Simpson
Medill Reports

SIEM REAP, Cambodia – From looking at religious merit release practices in and around Siem Reap, to exploring “pet culture” and animal welfare in households, to investigating the effects of noise pollution on a vulnerable bat population, students at The School for Field Studies in Cambodia are doing more than just studying abroad.

These students are investigating environmental concerns that face Cambodian communities today with hopes that their research can help inform environmental policy and action in the future. Through their programs, SFS is training students to do community-relevant research – that is, research that can make a difference.
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Hyderabad, India, captures a nexus of ancient and modern culture

By Aaron Dorman
Medill Reports

I traveled to India for the first time in my life for an all-too-brief three weeks’ of learning how farmers are adapting to increasing drought in the central province of Telangana with water conserving greenhouses.

Hyderabad and environs are about as far inland as can be at this latitude.  But in the heart of the city, the human-made Hussain Sagar Lake serves as a community hub. The lake is surrounded by parks and temples, and you can take a ferry to a statue of the Buddha in the middle of the lake.

Hussain Sagar Lake at sunset. Aaron Dorman/Medill

My first day in Hyderabad, I walked along the beautiful lake’s east side. It’s cut off from the rest of the city by an elevated highway, the “Tank Bund,” and layered with litter and trash along the banks. Near the hotel where I stayed, a family of feral pigs picked at garbage on a dry river bed that feeds into the lake.

Fruit vendor along the Take Bund in Hyderabad. Aaron Dorman/Medill.
A temple on the banks of Hussain Sagar Lake in Hyderabad. Aaron Dorman/Medill.

A province  conservation group has put up signs asking people to keep the lake shore clean and trash free. The group established  a row of planters filled with palm trees to beautify this portion of the waterfront. On the other side, fruit vendors and cane juice stalls offer respite from the 95-degree weather. A cold bottle of water will only set you back 20 rupees, or about 30 cents USD.

Swastika graffiti is a common site in Hyderabad; here it is a symbol for peace. Aaron Dorman/Medill.

Visitors should come prepared for the high volume of swastika graffiti and understand that it means “all is well” in its use by Hindus and Buddhists long before Nazi Germany adopted the symbol. Here, the former meaning persists. Tthe swastika also has been used as a symbol for the sun dating back millennia.

Elaborate mosques and temples line the other side of the Tank Bund.  Some of these structures are ages old, such as the one across the street from my temporary home in Secunderabad.

My first friend in India, the stray who has discovered that the Kheyti staff will give him food and water. Aaron Dorman/Medill.

Meanwhile, at the Kheyti Project office where I am embedded as a reporter, a street dog has discovered that benevolent humans there will feed him. He and I have become friends. Kheyti’s work here involves providing farmers with efficient greenhouses that help them grow crops in this drought-ridden area, providing harvests and easing poverty.

Kheyti has installed nearly 100 greenhouses already and project founders hope to have as many as 1,000 in place by the end of the year. My reporting will focus on the moving target of sustainable farming as climate change threatens the farmers’ crops and livelihood within coming decades – or even sooner.

A Hindu Temple in downtown Hyderabad. (Aaron Dorman/Medill)

Conservation, Culture, Community: The School for Field Studies in Cambodia

By Karyn Simpson
Medill Reports

SIEM REAP, Cambodia – If you turn left off the main road going west out of Siem Reap, Cambodia, you’ll find yourself on a sandy path not quite wide enough for two tuk-tuks.

You’ll bounce along the uneven road as the rush of city traffic abruptly gives way to the gentle hubbub of everyday community life. Take a right, then a left on unmarked dirt roads, past the dog with the orange fur and the second family selling clothing – everything from jeans to formal dresses – and you’ll find a tall metal gate, green paint chipping in the hot sun. This is the entrance to the School for Field Studies, an international study abroad program that not only immerses students into Cambodian culture, but also gives them first-hand experience in performing community-relevant research. Continue reading

Guam residents demand change: “There is No Planet B”

Text and photos by Hannah Magnuson
Medill Reports

About 60 residents gathered at Paseo Stadium in Agana, Guam, on Saturday, April 13, in an act of solidarity with the island’s natural resources.

As Earth Month hit mid-swing, they carried homemade signs that said things like, “There is No Planet B” and “Certified Tree Hugger.” From local advocacy leaders to college students and schoolchildren, they assembled to participate in the second annual March to Protect Mother Earth.

The march came at a time when the U.S. territory is under considerable strain: forces including invasive species, coral bleaching and wildfires threaten the small Pacific island’s natural resources and wildlife while its consumption and population remain sky high.

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Meet Chef Roberto Pérez: Revitalizing Chicago’s Puerto Rican food scene

By Justin Agrelo
Medill Reports

Puerto Rican chef Roberto Pérez doesn’t eat pork.

He confesses this to me from behind the steering wheel of his black Volvo on a cold Monday a few weeks ago. We’re driving through Chicago’s Austin neighborhood to Rico Fresh, one of Pérez’s favorite grocery stores.

His confession is an obvious break from a stale Puerto Rican stereotype that claims we all love pork. As a Puerto Rican who doesn’t eat much pork myself, Pérez’s views on “the swine” (as he calls it) don’t surprise me. But because people are defined just as much by choices they abstain from as they are by what they choose to enjoy, I ask him about it. Continue reading